The Internet Is Not A Legal Expert And Other Musings

The Internet and the Law

The Internet is a two edged sword when it comes to the law. On the one hand, I am often pleasantly surprised to learn how much knowledge a current or potential client has received from the many hours they have surfed the Internet. On the other hand, much of that knowledge is not relevant to their issue, raises expectations of their case beyond what the facts of their case would deliver in a court of law, and often has no relevancy to the laws of Pennsylvania, where I practice and where my clients generally live or do business. Inquirers are often surprised to learn that the cases they have reviewed and sent to me to review have absolutely no relevancy to Pennsylvania or, quite often, their issue.

Lawyers generally know how to conduct legal research and hone in on effective and relevant law, so if a client wants me to read through many cases they feel are relevant which they have pulled from the Internet, I will do so, but I will charge them for doing so. I think their money is better spent on me conducting the research.

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For instance, I recall a situation where a lawyer in another state achieved what my client thought was a remarkable result in the field of education law. I called the lawyer who told me the results of her case were “one in a million”, was entirely based on the unique facts of the situation, that her client was given significant help from some employees who worked for the school she was suing, and other fluky factors. Although the universe combined in that instance to create a unique result, and that is what it was-unique to the facts of the case- it was totally unrelated to the law as it stands in Pennsylvania.

Remember that the Internet has no controls, so anything can be mentioned. This does not mean that the things mentioned are even true. I am always surprised to learn that clients feel that if something is on the Internet, it is gospel. THE INTERNET IS NOT THE FONT OF KNOWLEDGE.

So, There is Nothing I can Do…

It always astonishes, and sometimes angers me, when I have spent time my time, often free of charge, giving a potential client my opinion on their legal options, and they conclude by saying “so, there is nothing I can do” or “you don’t sound optimistic”. I did not say that! I gave the potential client choices and possible results.

The disconnect between what I say and what a client often hears or wants to hear, comes because many people today, especially those who want or need to spend their hard earned dollars on legal representation, want a guarantee of excellent results. The law, and lawyers, cannot usually provide guarantees. In fact, I tell clients if they meet with a lawyer who guarantees a result, I would run the other way. There are so many factors which enter into a case, not the least of which is the opposing party, the opposing lawyer, the judicial system, the facts, the law, etc., that a result can’t be guaranteed. The law is not a shirt whose collar frays and one can demand their money back.

What disturbs me even more is that the same people who are concerned about whether they have a 100% winnable case, and want a guarantee of same, have often spent considerable money on things related to the case for which they will not receive any benefit. They have done this without consulting a lawyer, or they have consulted everyone besides a lawyer, such as a real estate agent, an accountant, their neighbors, their family, their friends, and anyone else who is not a lawyer, who have given them poor and quite often damaging and misleading advice. If one were to do a cost benefit analysis, the amount they would have spent on a lawyer to handle the matter effectively is usually far less than what they have spent in this round-about fashion of avoiding lawyers and the legal system.

For example, I had an elderly woman consult me once who had paid $40,000 in back taxes and bringing a mortgage current after it had fallen in arrears, on a house which was owned by her niece. Yet, she did not want to pay a fraction of that amount to undertake the process of placing the house into her name. Under the law she made a gift to her niece, and has no legal basis to recoup it if the niece sells the house or encumbers it. She doesn’t own the house. And, this is not an unusual situation. Not only had she not consulted a lawyer prior to spending this amount, but she said she didn’t have the money to pay a lawyer to do what was necessary to give her the benefit of her investment, for a couple of thousand dollars. I wish someone would come along and pay my bills.

I have said this before in other writing. Do not be pennywise and pound foolish. Consult a lawyer and keep an open mind and do not expect a guarantee under the law. But, if you have a fighting chance, lawyers perform small miracles daily, and they can certainly give you better advice about the law than people who aren’t lawyers.